Have you ever been talking to someone, and her eyes are everywhere else but looking at you? Maddening, isn’t it? In most cases, what she’s telling you is that she isn’t the least bit interested in what you’re saying…at least that’s how most would interpret it.
We all may think we know what body language is, but do we really pay that much attention to what our own visual communication says to someone else? This is true in business relationships as well as personal ones. You may be saying something totally different from your non-verbal communications than what you are trying to convey with your words. These kinds of “silent messages” are something we all need to be aware of.
I’ve seen many different statistics concerning how much of an influence body language has on total communication. Some say 55%, while others say 60% or 80%. I’ve seen as high as 93%. But all of these numbers say the same thing. The majority of the message you relay is done through your body versus verbal language. Body language expert Kevin Hogan, Psy.D, calls the non-verbal aspects “the most important area of communication.”
What does this mean to you as an employer? It means the messages your body is sending to your employees may be the exact opposite of what you are trying to tell them. You may be confusing them by giving them conflicting information in a single interaction. It’s one thing to learn to read other people's body language, but it is just as important to be aware of the message you send with your own.
The subconscious mind most often controls body language, so it takes practice to control what your body is portraying. If left to its own uncontrolled actions, the body will reveal the attitude and feelings from deep inside. This may not be the same picture you are trying to paint with your words.
1) When you first approach someone, do you offer a firm, confident handshake or a weak self-doubting one?
Be sure to set the stage with a positive sign of self-assurance.
2) Do you maintain eye contact?
Remember what it’s like when the person you are speaking with is looking everywhere but at you. Without eye contact, you’re telling them that they aren’t important or that you are not confident in what you’re saying. So be sure to look at their face…not too intensely because you don’t want to make them uncomfortable, but a natural look into their eyes. There are some cultures where this is not appropriate, so be aware of some of the differences.
3) What does your posture look like?
Are you standing upright and looking confident? Or are you slouching over and looking unsure of yourself or of what you are telling them? Maybe you disagree with the message you’ve been asked to relay to them, but you wouldn’t want that to show in your physical appearance.
4) Are you fidgeting and switching your weight from side to side?
If so, you are telling them you are impatient and would rather be somewhere else. They’ll stop listening to you and wish they were somewhere else too.
5) Are you facing them or turned away?
Again, it expresses the desire to be elsewhere or that you are not interested in them.
6) Where are your arms?
Are you using them to emphasize the topic, or are they folded across your body like you are scolding someone or in a standoff? Folded arms are a dead giveaway to being closed to the conversation. If you are closed with your delivery, chances are the message will not be received.
7) How about the tone of your voice?
Is it consistent with the words you are saying and the message you wish to deliver? If you are speaking in a monotone fashion, you may bore someone to death. However, if you change the tone too drastically, you may infer that you are uncomfortable or anxious.
8) Are your shoulders relaxed?
If not, you are conveying tension, which could create tension in your listener.
9) How are you holding your head?
To come across confident and like someone who means business and should be respected, then hold your head straight and still. When it’s your turn to listen, and you want to convey interest in what someone is saying, then it’s acceptable to slant your head slightly.
10) Are you breathing normally?
If you are taking short quick breaths, you show that you are nervous and unsure of what you are saying or feeling.
These ten body cues are a good start towards strengthening your message. The more you practice control of your non-verbal signals, the more command you will have over the encounter.